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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: ActivitySpaces

Primary Researchers: Susanne Hupfer, Steven Ross, John Patterson
Contact: steven_ross@us.ibm.com

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

Physical conversation spaces are useful for collocated teams -- to have meetings, review work artifacts, negotiate, resolve conflicts, disseminate information, share materials, or converse informally. As teams become increasingly distributed and chances for face-to-face discussion decrease, they turn to virtual team spaces for some of their communication needs. Virtual team spaces may incorporate tools such as shared text editors, chat utilities, discussion forums, wikis, whiteboards, and document repositories. These spaces have some disadvantages, however: Team spaces are external to members' main work environment and lack links to the work context, artifacts, and team activities. Spaces are not easy to monitor: Individuals may belong to multiple spaces and need to leave their work environment to check each space periodically. There is no automatic way to keep up-to-date, and spaces may stay “out of sight, out of mind.” Team spaces aren't necessarily relevant or interesting: They may collect many discussions and artifacts, not all of which are significant to every team member, often resulting in a lack of interest in the space or information overload. Team Spaces are not easy to search: Content is captured in individual team spaces and not available for cross-project search. Because defunct spaces are not generally visited or searched, members may disperse, knowledge is lost. Finally, team spaces wall off information, making it accessible only to members and difficult to share with outsiders.

Recognizing both the great potential of team spaces to support groups engaged in a common activity, as well as their drawbacks, we are exploring ways to build improved collaboration spaces (with a special emphasis on supporting distributed software development). Our research is focused on designing and building a prototype of an "ActivitySpace" -- a shared space for keeping track of the objects associated with a jointly-owned activity. An ActivitySpace provides views of all the objects relating to the activity -- the people, the documents, the sub-activities, and any conversations about these objects. Beyond organizing discussions and artifacts around activities, an ActivitySpace will also provide members of the team with awareness of what’s going on across the team by indicating the status of activities -- which activities are in progress, which have been completed, which are having problems or falling behind schedule, who is working on what. The ActivitySpace will also provide a clear picture of the team’s progress against the primary activity.

Our goal is for these improved spaces to provide:
- Information that is contextual, relevant, interesting, and timely for individual members
- Easy monitoring of what’s new in multiple spaces
- A sense of the team’s current activities, progress and cohesion
- Search capability across spaces (including retired ones)
- Means for multiple teams to share information and ways to let outsiders in on some information

We plan to use RSS-like feeds to overcome some of the problems of conventional team spaces. These feeds permit users to subscribe to alerts about new information within ActivitySpaces. Thus, without actually "going to" an ActivitySpace, a user will be notified when something interesting has happened. We will also provide a "reader" similar to an RSS reader that will aggregate information from multiple ActivitySpaces, so that users will not need to "run around" checking the many ActivitySpaces to which they belong. Furthermore, we will provide the ability to publish items to external feeds for easy sharing with other groups of people.

For more information on ActivitySpaces see

"Reinventing Team Spaces for a Collaborative Development Environment" (technical report 05-1)